A Detailed Analysis On How The US Education System Works

The US Education System

Written by Pareeshti Rao

It all started with an impulsive urge to befriend Enid Blyton and be a part of the famous five! Writing since then has been my magic wand and I've used it to sprinkle words like fairy dust and express myself thereat.

April 1, 2021

When it comes to education, everybody wants the best. The combination of being able to focus on your studies while living the dreamy campus-life is what significantly contributes to the ‘best’ factor. The American school system is known for this – quality education with a fancy campus life. Studying in the US is an experience of its own, where making memories one moment at a time to cherish them later is a part of the journey. Understanding the working of the US education system will help you realise how close you are to creating a one-of-a-kind experience for yourself. In this article, we will systematically take you through the education system in the US starting from the elementary levels and moving on to the higher education levels.

The US Education System – Primary and Secondary Levels


Prior to higher education, students in America attend primary and secondary schooling for a period of 12 years where each level is referred to as grades. The following stages below explain how the USA school system works.

Stage 1: At the age of 6, the US children begin their primary or elementary education. Students complete this level within 5 years and move on to their middle and high schools.

Stage 2: The middle school or junior high school is the next stage of study for students where the students spend another 5 years before entering their secondary school levels.

Stage 3: The last stage of schooling as per the US education system is the secondary schooling where students graduate from their high school and receive a diploma or a certificate upon graduation. 

American Education System – Higher Education Institutions

The US Education System

There are many ways to proceed with your higher education in the US. Depending upon what type of education you seek, you can choose the type of institution you wish to go to. Here are the types of higher education institutions as per the US education system.

University/State School/ College

There are about 50 states in the US where every state comprises at least one top-ranked university offering higher education to students at low rates. The state government and their related departments often provide funding for these institutions.

Private Colleges/ Universities

As compared to state schools, these universities run privately on their own funds. They comparatively fall on the expensive end.

Community Colleges 

Community Colleges form an integral part of the US education system. A community college is exactly as the name implies: A higher education institution that primarily serves its surrounding community. Community colleges offer traditional academic classes like math and history that will transfer to a four-year college or university but also offer community programmes like resume help to job seekers, or swim classes to children. Community colleges offer ESL courses or other programmes that prepare students for studying university-level courses.

Technology Institutes

Integrated four year courses specific to science and technology are offered by Technology Institutes in the US.

The US Education System – Levels Of Study


Level 1: Undergraduate studies

The first level of study in higher education is at the undergraduate level which typically takes about 4 years to complete. You can either begin your pursuit of undergraduate studies at a community college and transfer to a university later or directly enrol into a 4-year university. At this level, students can opt from a wide variety of courses including literature, science, social sciences, arts, history, and so forth.

The subject that is opted by the student is called a “major” in which the student will specialise. You even have the flexibility of switching majors in the US education system but it will involve more courses and therefore more expenses. 

Level 2: Postgraduate/Masters studies

Upon completion of your undergraduate/bachelor degree, you will be eligible to pursue a postgraduate degree which will play a key role in advancing your career. This level of study, even though optional, is mandatory in the US for the fields of  library science, engineering, behavioral health and education. According to the US education system, to gain admission at a graduate level, it is mandatory to take the following tests. 

GRE or the Graduate Record Examination is a common test taken by students who wish to pursue their masters studies in the US.
LSAT is a test taken by students who wish to pursue law.
GRE or GMAT is taken to get into business schools.
MCAT is the test for medical studies.

Most graduate programmes in the US take two years to complete post which students can either look for options to kick start their career or proceed further with their higher education.

Level 3: Doctoral Studies

Many students include doctoral and research studies in their long-term plans and consider postgraduate studies as the first step towards pursuing a PhD in the US. While most schools in the US require students to complete their masters’ studies in order to proceed with their research, some schools give students the option of directly going ahead with their doctoral degree without having to complete their PG course. A typical PhD course takes about 5 to 6 years to complete.  

The US Education System

Distinguishing Characteristics Of The US Education System 


Apart from the flexibility in selecting subjects, stress on exploring concepts, focus on sports and extracurricular activities and implementation of latest technology, the US education ranking is undoubtedly amongst the top in the world. There are certain characteristics that make it so, a few of which include:

  • In the US, you not only have the flexibility to study from a diverse range of programmes, but also to tailor the course as per your preferences. You have the option of combining two or more unrelated subjects as a part of your programme.
  • If you wish to study in the US, you will witness some of the world’s leading universities offering excellent and quality education.
  • Moreover, as per the latest statistics, over 1.1 million international students go to the US every year to pursue their higher education. International exposure is something every student will gain from the US education system which will eventually lead to a career boost.
  • The American university classroom atmosphere is very dynamic. You will be expected to share your opinion, argue your point, participate in class discussions and give presentations. International students find this one of the most surprising aspects of the American education system.
  • Every student enrolled into a course will be issued grades based on the class participation, contribution to seminars, midterm examinations, research term papers, short term exams or quizzes, and final examinations.
  • Every course in the US is worth a certain number of hours called credits or credit hours. The number of credit hours in a week is determined by the number of hours a student spends in the class for that particular course. A typical course is worth 3 to 5 credits.
  • If a student enrols at a new university before finishing a degree, they can use the credits earned at the first school to complete a degree at the new university. This means a student can transfer to another university and still graduate within a reasonable time.

We hope you enjoyed reading this blog on The US Education System. If you wish to read more about studying in the US, here are some blogs that we think you will enjoy reading – 

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